All of us are constantly trying to balance our needs. When we are out of balance, our behaviours, responses, and decisions are all governed by trying to get back into some sense of balance. With any luck, we find and choose healthy ways to rebalance ourselves; but balance we must, even if we have to find less healthy ways to do it.
For example, we all need to feel at least a little in control of our environment and our lives. We feel stable when we know what we’ll eat today, what’s expected of us, where to keep our possessions and where we’ll lay our head to sleep tonight. These are fairly basic needs. Each human need is a spectrum – some of us need more of any given need than others do, but we’re all on that spectrum somewhere. You’ll notice some people need to feel more certainty (control) than others. Healthy ways of maintaining certainty are self-management, planning and strategy. Unhealthy ways are raising our voice, “throwing our weight around” and trying to control others.
Last week, we spoke about Creating Cohesion Out of Chaos, and I mentioned four specifics that all of us are after – honesty, respect, integrity, and trust. These four intricately linked needs create our sense of safety. Here’s how:
When we live in an environment of honesty where communication is open and transparent, we don’t have to expend our energy looking for the things we can’t see coming. It’s human nature for us to want to protect ourselves. We have full-time egos whose sole dedication is to constantly assess our risk and report on whether it thinks we’re under threat. When we feel that we can’t see the whole picture, even if that suspicion is subconscious, it produces an anxious “seeking” as we try and fill in the blanks in the information available to us so that we can assess our level of security or threat. This constant seeking can occupy a large part of our thinking and processing ability, not to mention the energy required to keep it up.
Because we have a part of our brain that is constantly trying to assess risk, if it can’t find enough valid information to fill in the blanks, it will fill in those blanks with the absolute worst-case scenario – so that at least we have something to prepare ourselves for. This is why encouraging people to communicate openly, honestly, and transparently with each other is one of the cornerstones of teamwork – be it at home, at work, or any other arena.
When we are honest with each other, even when the picture we need to share isn’t all roses, we can channel our energy usefully without being side-tracked and drained by seeking, anxiety and negative assumptions. We behave in better and more adult ways because lack of honesty isn’t messing with our sense of certainty (control). When we’re in a transparent environment, even if it’s not all positive, we can act from our adult selves, rather than our egos running amuck, trying to balance us in unhealthy ways.
Whilst honesty is responsible for us being able to channel our energy in productive directions, we can’t deliver honesty without clothing it first with respect. Imagine if we all ran around being honest all over everyone without respect? What a messy world that would be! When we temper our honesty with respect, we deliver it in ways that are caring and intended for good use, rather in ways that are damaging and intended to snag other people up. We consider the validity of what we’re communicating, as well as who we’re communicating it to and what they’ll need to do with that information for our communication and their outcomes to be considered successful. Often, this entails communicating the same thing to different people in different ways.
For example, imagine an emergency in the cockpit of my aircraft – a problem with an engine that required us to immediately reassess the remainder of the flight and land as soon as possible, for example. The language used within the cockpit to secure that emergency situation is concise. The communication to assess the situation and determine a plan of immediate action will take all available information into account and be discussed without pretence and in a certain tone of voice. We must act fast and accurately, using our training to assess the risks involved, evaluate our aircraft’s capabilities and the safety of the flight.
Once the engine is secured and our next steps planned, we must communicate that same emergency to the cabin crew who will need to prepare the cabin and the passengers for a possible emergency landing. Our communication with the cabin crew will pertain to the same emergency but contain different information and be delivered differently to the candid discussion that’s happened in the cockpit. It will be more brief and more concise, containing the information they need to act effectively and care for our passengers. It is not dishonest or disrespectful not to share every detail of the discussion in the cockpit.
When speaking directly to the passengers to prepare them, once again, the same emergency will be communicated with respect for the context and needs of those people. If this emergency was communicated to the passengers using the same language and content as discussed in the cockpit, there would likely be panic. Information that they don’t know how to contextualise would leave them feeling fearful and out of control, which would lead to behaviour that isn’t going to keep them safe. At the same time, it would be dangerous and disrespectful not to prepare them at all or try and pretend there was no issue.
Keeping information from people because we’d prefer not to admit a negative, or because we’d like to control them a certain way is not the same as communicating with honesty and respect that allows others to act effectively, safely and with a feeling of security.
We may not always be able to protect others from negative facts and outcomes when we commit to communicating with honesty, but we can communicate honesty with respect for the person we’re communicating with. We can consider context, how their understanding and view of the same picture differs from ours, and what they need to do with the information to achieve their own best outcomes.
When we communicate with honesty and respect as a matter of course, this starts to look and feel like integrity. Integrity is our ability to stand for what we believe and represent consistently, across the board, regardless of the arena, or the outcome, or who is present. Integrity adds another layer to how we affect other people’s sense of certainty. They may not always like what they hear or receive from us, but they know that it will be real, true, transparent, and delivered with care and respect.
We build a consistency that allows people to grow to trust us.
We build an environment within which people can more calmly receive, process and act on what is real, even when that reality isn’t necessarily the way they would want it to be. We allow others to “step down” from their sneaky suspicions that they’re not getting the whole story, and from using their anxious energy to try and fill in the blank spaces with the worst-case scenario. We create an environment of mutual respect, where everyone’s voice is worth something, and where we can honour each other’s contribution. Perhaps best of all, we allow the energy of everyone involved to be channelled towards growth and forward movement because it’s no longer swirling around trying to identify misinformation.
Honesty, respect, integrity, and trust. They are inextricably linked. They are not easy to deliver. They require courage, consideration and care. But they are worth every ounce of that energy.
by Christen Killick
September 20th, 2021